A special prosecutor asked to review the case involving the arrest and death of Max Meadows resident Billy Dunford has determined that the single use of force used by a Wythe County deputy when he arrested Dunford was not a contributing factor in the man’s death.
In a letter to Virginia State Police Agent B.R. Edwards, Pulaski County Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Fleenor, Jr. wrote that he had reviewed Edwards’ report relating to Dunford’s death.
“I have also reviewed the Report of Investigation prepared by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the Report of Autopsy prepared by that same office. I was asked to evaluate the use of force by Wythe County Deputy (Zack) Puckett,” the letter said.
Fleenor said that after reviewing the materials, he concluded there is insufficient evidence to conclude that Deputy Puckett used excessive force or that he acted improperly in any way.
“According to the autopsy there were a number of causes, including long term diseases that contributed to his death,” Fleenor said. “It is my opinion that a single incident of reasonable force applied by this Deputy was not a contributing factor.”
Dunford’s sister, Rachel Fowler, declined to comment on the letter.
“The family or our representative will have a statement at the appropriate time,” she said.
The unofficial “Mayor of Max Meadows,” Dunford was well-known in town and a fixture at the local convenience store, where customers often bought him beer and cigarettes.
Puckett arrested Dunford at the Max Meadows post office on Nov. 4. The previous day, after receiving reports of someone defecating in the post office lobby, the deputy told Dunford to stay away from the post office.
In his incident report, Puckett said he suspected Dunford was going to run so he used a one-step technique to take him down. According to the report, Dunford was taken to the Wythe County Sheriff’s Office, where the Wythe County Rescue Squad checked him out.
Puckett then took Dunford before a magistrate and obtained warrants for trespassing and obstruction of justice. Dunford was then transported to the New River Valley Jail.
According to jail Superintendent Gregory Winston, Dunford entered the jail at 7:12 a.m. He was released from jail on bond at 6:59 p.m. Winston said Dunford was offered medical services when he arrived and again around lunchtime. He could not provide specifics about any medical treatment because health information about inmates is protected.
Dunford’s family members said when they picked him up from the New River Valley Jail, he was injured and could not walk. Less than 48 hours later, Dunford was admitted to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, where he died Nov. 14.
According to the Virginia Medical Examiner’s Office, Dunford , 57, died of a pulmonary embolism, pneumonia and a bacterial infection due to complications of a recent left hip fracture, chronic alcoholism and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The manner of death is listed as undetermined, according to the death certificate.
Prior to the release of the death certificate, Wythe County Commonwealth's Attorney Mike Jones requested that the Virginia State Police investigate the circumstances surround Dunford’s death. According to VSP Public Relations Director Corinne Geller, the VSP’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation's Wytheville Field Office initiated its investigation on Dec. 11, 2018.
Jones asked for the investigation at the request of Dunford’s family, who has questioned whether Dunford’s arrest contributed to his death.
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